Friday, March 4, 2011

Pre-code Zombies: White Zombie

Those were the happy times, weren't they dear?  I mean before we met that Haitian witch doctor who killed you, raised you from the dead, turned you into a zombie sex slave and forced you to do his bidding.  ...You know what? On the next vacation let's just go to Niagara.

The Movie:
It's the 6th post, a good time for zombies.  We'll get to the vampires later.  Maybe. 
White Zombie (1932, directed by Vic Halperin) is a tale of Caribbean voodoo starring Bela Lugosi and Madge Bellamy.  Considered to be the first zombie picture, there's not a whole lot to the plot beyond the photo caption above.  Still, I found the movie to be really interesting, mostly because of moody and foreboding visuals and the mystifying movements of Bela Lugosi's outrageous eyebrows - does anyone else find him more hilarious than frightening?  Just so no one who is interested in blood-smacking action wastes their time (that is if I had any readers), there is no blood, gore or brain-eating in this movie.

Haitian Voodoo
I learned a lot from the research here, having previously been owner of all the voodoo-related misconceptions:  blood sacrifices, the undead, spirits, malice, witch doctors, dolls, potions, etc.  These can be part of the belief set, but isn't where vodou starts.  Contrary to the usual stereotype, vodou isn't considered as a religion, but rather a set of beliefs that can be compatible with other religions.  Many practicing Catholics in Haiti also hold on to their traditional beliefs.  The practice of voodoo has its roots in African spirit-worship and religion brought over by the slaves.  In 1804, Haiti became the first black republic, winning freedom from France and developing from then on along its own course, including gaining some individuality in the way voodoo was practiced.

A Lugosi sampler.
In vodou, much attention is paid to the spirit world.  Ancestral spirits, sometimes called 'loua' can be inherited from one's family from either or both sides, and they belong only to that family. Loua have different characteristics, depending on the family or group they belong to, and have personality traits similar to real people.  Family members are aware of their loua through dreams and trances and are even considered to be the source of possession of children.  In trances, people can assume the traits of a loua - probably handy when one wants to do something out of character or socially irresponsible - these usually occur during certain rituals.  The dead also have certain powers under voodoo - ancestors can make members of the family ill and bring good and bad luck. Followers of voodoo believe that, after death, the spirit separates from the body but can be called back into a connection with the living through rituals This connection to the dead has made the recent earthquake in Haiti (January, 2010) more difficult to bear when bodies were not found and/or could not be given the proper services and gravesites.

Witch Doctors or Bokor
Bokor are considered sorcerers who practice both white and black magic and are able to create zombies and call on spirits.  The typical zombie creation process of a bokor is presumed in myth to involve a potion with the pufferfish poison (a type of tetrodotoxin). Bokors are chosen at birth.

If You Meet A Zombie...
In voodoo, zombies are dead persons reawakened and controlled by a bokor.  Multiple hypotheses have been made as to the origin of the zombie mythology, and it seems to be related to several concepts in various African religions, including the notion of the zombi astral, which is part of the soul captured and used by the bokor to become more powerful. Also, zombi is another name of the powerful luoa Damballah, the sky god, believed to be the creator of life and represented as a snake.  A medical mix of drugs including tetrodotoxin and dissociative drugs have been postulated to send a person into a death-like state before they arouse into a psychotic trance.  This possible explanation has been pretty much debunked at this time.

If you meet a zombie, give it salt to turn it back to the grave.  (At least that's my mother's advice.)

The moody visuals of White Zombie.
Links and Sources:
Traveling Haiti:  Haitian Voodoo
National Geographic: Haiti Earthquake & Voodoo
American Museum of Natural History:  Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou
Wikipedia:  Zombie
A link to the band.  Listened to their first album countless times, and had no idea what they were named for:  White Zombie VEVO

No comments:

Post a Comment